Minnesota Timberwolves (7-4) vs Phoenix Suns (4-8)
In the far-off times of 2014 to 2016, the Minnesota Timberwolves were a burgeoning team that was chock-full of athleticism and youth. Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kris Dunn, Tyus Jones, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng all were in their first few years of playing in the NBA. The team was an exciting blend of high-octane offense and dizzying dunks. The potential was apparent, as the Wolves were often cast as a team on the rise that was trying to figure things out before they join the ranks of the NBA elite. They were building from the ground up.
That model did not exactly work out. The starting unit of Ricky Rubio, LaVine, Wiggins, Dieng, and Towns did not produce anything close to a winning record. The offense was typically there, but the defense was not. The team struggled to close out close games and had a penchant for blowing leads. Across the roster, there were overlaps that did not make sense. LaVine, Wiggins, and Muhammad were all offense-first wings. Dunn and Jones were competing for backup point guard duties, with Dunn providing all defense and no offense and Jones being more of a game manager. Dieng and Towns provided a serviceable front court, but struggled against small ball teams and could not take adequate advantage of their size.
Thus, the project was scrapped. Potential and assets had to be capitalized upon in order to produce winning basketball. The Wolves had to make that shift in the last offseason. The 76ers may have to make that shift the upcoming offseason as they have to move on from the depressed value of Jahlil Okafor and try to figure out how they are going to fit in Dario Saric, as well as pay Robert Covington, with their core.
The Phoenix Suns are basically at the point of where the 2014-2015 Timberwolves were, a team that ended up with the worst record in the league. The Suns attempted to have a mix of youth and veterans that would help teach the young players, but not all the veterans had an interest in playing that role. Eric Bledsoe decided enough was enough and now is playing for the Milwaukee Bucks. Zach Lowe just put out a great breakdown of how the Suns got to where they are and what is next, which you can read here.
With the injury to Brandon Knight, and recently Tyson Chandler has been sitting out with back spasms as well, the Suns have been playing mostly players who are under the age of 24. Alex Len, Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, and T.J. Warren are the primary players on this team, accompanied by Mike James, Troy Daniels, and Jared Dudley.
That is a lot of young guys. As Timberwolves fans know all too well, it often does not matter how good the young players are. You just aren’t going to win a lot of games.
Unsurprisingly, the Suns have one of the worst net rating differential in the league at -8.9. They are ranked 25th in offensive rating and 29th in defensive rating. That is not good.
Their lead player, Devin Booker, is perhaps the most similar to Andrew Wiggins in all of the NBA in terms of the vast gap between their box score statistics and advanced statistics.
Chris and Bender are two exciting forwards, but they play the same position, which makes it difficult to evaluate their effectiveness. Jackson is still finding his footing and Warren and Len are kind of just young guys who are just around, it is hard to really decipher if they will be part of the long-term plan or not.
But for tonight, the Suns are on game four of a six game homestand, having lost the last five games in a row. They are likely going to be one of the worst teams in the league along with the Mavericks, Kings, Hawks, and Bulls.
Rebuilding teams can certainly provide excitement as well as great highlights to watch the following day, but rarely does all that potential lead to victories, at least in the first few years. The Wolves should win tonight, as they are no longer the young team that is built to entertain, but rather they are the team that is built to compete.
Projected Starting Lineups
Injuries - Justin Patton remains out with no timetable for the Wolves. For the Suns, they will be missing Brandon Knight (out for season) and Greg Monroe (out for another week). Tyson Chandler (missed last two games due to back spasms) and Jared Dudley (injured his knee last game and did not return) are questionable.
Prediction - Wolves 115 - Suns 90. Blow-out victory for the Wolves. This Suns team is just not good, especially if Chandler and Dudley are out tonight. The Wolves simply have too many offensive weapons that the Suns cannot contain and after locking in on Devin Booker, there are not any other high-profile scorers on the Suns. The only worrisome factor is the Suns play at the 2nd highest pace in the league, so the Wolves will have to focus on transition defense.